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NRHA: Dead Horses and Free Speech?

Does the NRHA draw a parallel between a dead horse and free speech when revoking a membership? One man is going to find out.

Shrouded in confidentiality throughout their rules – you are now getting a rare look at what is going on behind the locked doors of the NRHA?

In the District Court of Oklahoma, reining enthusiasts are getting a firsthand behind the scenes look as a lifetime membership is revoked. Typically, revoking membership is for the most heinous of crimes like killing a horse, but one man is fighting the NRHA for what some may describe as free speech.

The man taking legal action against the NRHA is Kit Cosper, claiming that by revoking his lifetime membership, the NRHA has failed to comply with its own Disciplinary Procedures of the NRHA’s 2012 General Rules and Regulations. According to the lawsuit, the letter [click here to read the actual letter] did not state any reasons or allege any misconduct as the basis for his membership revocation.

Who is Kit Cosper

Cosper, the son of Monica Watson of Double Run Farm, who breed the famous NRHA Hall of Fame and $9 million reining sire, Wimpys Little Step. He is a life member of the NRHA since 1999, has served the NRHA in several different significant capacities, including but not limited to: (a) member of the NRHA’s Executive Committee, (b) Vice President of the Reining Horse Sports Foundation and (c) a member of the NRHA Bylaw committee. Since 2013, Cosper operates the FaceBook page ‘Take back the NRHA’ which is closed group for reining enthusiasts for the discussion of By-Laws, Rules, and Policy. This group exists for the open, frank discussion of these issues. Matters that are important to members.

In the NRHA’s response to his claim, among many points they state:

The point goes on to cite a FaceBook post. To read the full court document response and their assertions, please <<<<click here>>>>.

The NRHA has failed in their bid to have the matter thrown out. The matter is before the courts, and you can read all courts documents by <<<<clicking here>>>>. Everyone will be watching to see the outcome of this case.

In a society where giving opinions, vigorous debate and opposing opinions have become the norm through social media, why did the NRHA take action against a member? Who else has fallen victim to the same fate but did not have the experience to stand up and fight?

Who else has been suspended or revoked but its hidden from the membership?

Interestingly, Cosper’s membership was revoked in May 2016, but that fact never appeared in the Reiner Magazine Disciplinary List. It raises the question of how many others members have been revoked or suspended, but the information kept a secret? How many trainers are suspended but no-one ever learns about it as its all keep confidential. Imagine your horse is with a multiple time offender and you have no knowledge of it! The board of directors has the right to elect whether they will publish the information. Its not a compulsory list.

What are your thoughts? By taking this action are the NRHA fundamentally saying that you cannot have an opinion or discuss issues about the NRHA if they do not agree with the NRHA, its staff, and the NRHA Executive Committee? What are they inferring with this claim defence? Do you agree there needs to be increased transparency and stop the secret society of a member owned organization.

Are the secret society By-Laws and Rules unique to the NRHA?

Delving deeper into the By-Laws and Rules and Regulations you can find some interesting points that you will not find in the NCHA (National Cutting Horse Association) and AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association), two of the related entities grounded in the showing and breeding of performance quarter horses. The NRHA being the smallest general membership group of around 12,600 members worldwide.

The NRHA references numerous times “Confidential.” You will find it under Section 5. Investigation Review Committee points 9 and 12. Section 6. Hearing Body point 12. It appears four times in their handbook. Whereas, a quick scan of the NCHA Handbook and AQHA Handbook and the word does not exist.

Correspondence produced by NRHA to members and non-members references “Confidential statements” – how far and wide that is used is till being uncovered.

What is so confidential at the NRHA? Why do other similar associations not need to be reliant on such clauses?

Is it a case of ‘dictated to completely’?

To remain a member of the NRHA is a vital part of breeding, owning and showing reiners. To lose a membership can be devastating to a person that has invested time, money and passion into the sport. But how risky is that investment when it comes to retaining your membership?

In the By-Laws, it states “Membership is a privilege and not a vested right. All memberships are subject to the approval of the Executive Committee, which may approve, reject, suspend, or revoke the membership of any Member at any time in its discretion. The Board of Directors retains final authority regarding all aspects of membership, including conditions of membership, eligibility, qualifications, approval or rejection, suspension, revocation, processes, types, dues, and interpretations of the provisions of these Bylaws relating to membership, and the decision of the Board of Directors shall be final and not subject to appeal or review.”

Looking at the Cosper case and reading the rules, could this be the reason why we see comments on FaceBook of ‘I am no longer a member so I can say……’.

With increased transparency much of the conjecture can be removed as people will be informed of what is really happening behind the scenes of the NRHA.

Share your thoughts and please be respectful of each other’s opinions.

We are Polling for Change at the NRHA for more transparency. Click here to vote.

The revoked membership for a dead horse is Mark Arballo. <<<<Read the story here>>>>

 

Is This a Reining Sport Secret?

The reining sport authority says:

“All complaints filed with the NRHA are confidential, as are the decisions made by the committees in closed session.”

Well that keeps it all a secret does it not? – click here for a redacted copy of a letter signed by the National Reining Horse Association.

And the rules state you must pay $250.00 to file a complaint and you receive a letter saying that?

The National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) is a not-for-profit association, with a member elect Board of Directors. For many members they may not know this happens when one of their peers attempts to file a complaint with the NRHA; they receive that letter and the door seems to be slammed shut. The committees all meet in closed session from what we know at this time.

So how do the names on the disciplinary list in the Reiner Magazine get there?

Shhhhh

If all complaints get that letter, as it states they do, then could this be a perceived gagging order on members?

Sections of the membership are showing resounding silence across the globe when issues of abuse are raised. There are those that deny outright what goes on, those that indicate it is going on, and others that write about their experiences and what they have personally witnessed. Those speaking out often saying they are no longer members. Others saying they can speak now as they are no longer members.

Are the responses of denial verging on a culture where avoiding exclusion from the sport at the expense of horses? Read our article on Who is Protecting Reining Horse Welfare and the public comments.

There is some conjecture that if you lodge a complaint or speak poorly of the NRHA they will revoke or deny your membership as ‘a person not in good standing’. Seemingly they can revoke/not grant it without reason. If this is true, it could weigh heavily into the need for more transparency within the NRHA and its complaint handling procedures and membership rights. It is a not-for-profit membership and not a private company.

Legal Action

Kit Cosper, former NRHA Board Member and an Executive Committee member, is currently testing that clause with legal action against the NRHA after his lifetime membership was cancelled.

Click here to read the court document claim and click here to read the NRHA legal response to the claim. We do not wish to debate or comment on his individual claim and look forward to reading the court’s decision. We can say is that he is an active person in seeking transparency within the NRHA.

These are public documents available through the courts.

 

Now here is a dilemma

If the complaints are confidential as their letter states, then how do the names on the disciplinary list get there? From January 2011 to December 2016 – just 15 members globally had serious action taken against them (suspended/revoked) and just 11 placed on probation. We know two happened after the courts found them guilty of abuse; Arballo and Weston. One states unsportsmanlike conduct while the others remain a mystery as to why they are listed.

There is conjecture that these people listed are used to show affirmative action is being taken to satisfy the public and those members who are less informed.

Questions, Questions, Questions

We can all ponder how the NRHA are managing complaints but it would be best if you write to them and ask them to answer the questions, publicly?

What exactly does that confidentiality statement mean to a member?

  1. Do you not get an answer to your complaint because its confidential?
  2. Are the results of a complaint kept secretive to everyone, including other members and the person/s you complained about?
  3. What happens if a complaint is a serious abuse issue and the filer feels it just been dropped into the abyss?
  4. Where is the proof that the complaint is handled if it’s all confidential?
  5. Are only complaints filed by show representatives heard and made public?

The members own the NRHA and not the elected board members and staff !

More Questions

Members should be asking:

  1. How many complaints are actually received by the NRHA each year that are ‘locked under confidential’?
  2. How many complaints are found to be substantial and require disciplinary action but none is taken?
  3. What are abuse complaints measured against when the rule book dedicates just 4% of its welfare statement to animal abuse and the code of conduct is not enforced on trainers?

If there was ever a catalyst for the need for transparency and a more independent complaint handling procedure, this would be most likely part of it.

Have your opinion and vote on whether you believe changes are needed. Click here.

 

NRHA turns back on horses again in 2017

The new 2017 National Reining Horse Association – NRHA Handbook is now available online

Unfortunately, they have let the horses down once again with their lackluster approach to animal welfare and no changes being made from 2016.

The Animal Welfare and Medications Provisions is focused on medications demonstrating they believe they have a greater drug problem than abuse. All we can say is the drug problem must be astronomical as the abuse is extremely noticeable in warm-up pens across the globe.

Some interesting extracts from the handbook are:

  1. The Show Steward should be knowledgeable of accepted reining schooling practices and should take necessary action should he/she witness or be made aware of misconduct or abuse on the show grounds.

There remains no documented standards that need to be abided to as like in the American Quarter Horse Association rule book. If the Show Steward accepts that excessive jerking, spurring, fencing and over spinning is all part of the training process, then they immediately condone the behavior and set a self-belief standard at any event.

  1. The Show Manager is required to receive complaints from NRHA members related to cruel, abusive, or inhumane treatment of horses on show grounds.

Once again, nothing is documented so how is cruel, abusive or inhumane substantiated. A knowledgeable person does not mean they are sufficiently emotionally intelligent enough determine this. A quick look back over some training videos by the greats stands testament to that with wire nosebands, tie arounds and many other barbaric methods. It is an ambiguous statement that is open to interpretation to benefit trainers, not horses.

  1. New Professionals members must complete a Code of Conduct and submit it with the membership form and fee.

There is no other mention of the Code of Conduct, and it remains totally unenforceable as they only take action on what is set out in the Handbook.

 

The questions need to be asked:

Q1:  Is the National Reining Horse Association tolerant of abuse?

!2:  Is the National Reining Horse Association reluctant to make changes as they may upset their primary money-making source – trainers bringing horses to shows?

The American Quarter Horse Association are able to define more about welfare of reiners than the reining association itself. Extract below.

Please vote on our pole for change located on the website.

aqha-rules

 

Did the NRHA Abandon Their Welfare Statement?

In March 2016, the NRHA abandoned their welfare statement, and all other statements contained within their Code of Ethics for NRHA Professionals. The program designed to govern the standards of reining trainers and a compliance requirement that remained the same since 2011. What caused this major change in their position on the Code of Ethics and regulation of trainers?

Typically, a Code of Ethics sets a standard that both members and the public can rely upon in their dealings with an association and its members. Companies, Not-For-Profits and Associations published codes to provide the public and fellow members with confidence and a recourse if they feel unfairly treated in dealings with a member. A place to hear their concerns independently and fairly.

Many companies and associations are judged by how they respond to their Code of Ethics. Accounting firms, legal firms, realty and other services like veterinarians ask their members to subscribe to their membership and code of ethics/conduct. Public using a members services are invited to lodge complaints where they believe the service provider has failed in their duty of care. But not the case with the NRHA.

NRHA Professionals Card Application & Code of Ethics States:

We, the members of the National Reining Horse Association Professionals in carrying out our role of providing service to the Reining horse industry, recognize the need to do so in a professional manner, and to represent the sport of reining in a professional manner with the highest degree of integrity. Therefore, we have set forth the following code of ethics, which shall govern our endeavors in the industry.

By signing this application, I agree to be bound by the rules of the NRHA Professional Code of Ethics. I understand that in order to participate in this program, I must maintain a continuous individual membership with NRHA. As a member of the NRHA Professionals, I will:

  1. Adhere to the professional standards of the NRHA and work to further its goals and objectives.
  2. Ensure that the welfare of the Reining horse is paramount and that every horse shall at all times be treated humanely and with dignity, respect and compassion.
  3. Conduct my affairs in the sport of reining with integrity, sincerity, and accuracy in an open and forthright manner.
  4. Act with integrity in my dealings with reining clients, other NRHA members, and the public when representing the sport of reining. In this regard, any horse shown by my spouse, client, or child will be economically owned as prescribed by applicable NRHA rules.
  5. Handle my reining horse business in a manner in which promotes the image of the Reining horse industry.
  6. When representing the reining horse industry avoid conduct that could to discredit the NRHA or its membership

NRHA Professionals program has members in some 24 countries across the globe. The public can readily access and are reading the statement on their website application form.

Something happened in March 2016 and they added an extra line to the application form. It says:

The NRHA does not endorse or recommend any trainer or professional and is not responsible for action or inaction of any trainer or professional.

You can view the current copy on their website here.

Furthermore, the NRHA (the owners of the NRHA Professionals Program) are limited in their authority to discipline someone except by the very limited and abstruse rules contained in the NRHA Handbook on non-medication and welfare. In fact, Code of Ethics points 2-3-4-5-6 do not appear anywhere in the NRHA Handbook nor is it even mentioned.

So who governs and ensures the NRHA Professionals abide by their Code Of Ethics at it states should happen?

Members and Reining Enthusiast Public need to really start asking questions about this association. Questions like:

  1. The Code of Ethics implies it expects trainers to abide by rules that affect their behavior away from events in dealings with the public and horses. How are you governing trainers and ensuring they abide by the code?
  2. Why are they asking people to sign the code of ethics if there is no recourse against them? Is this a marketing gimmick to get more people involved?
  3. How would you judge an Association that has a disclaimer of no responsibility on their Code of Ethics and not referenced in their rule book?

What other questions do you think the reining trainers and NRHA should be answering?

Let us know what you think and if anyone knows why they changed their position in March 2016, please let us know.

NRHA Rules Score a Minus 1 ½

The issue of animal welfare is high on the agenda of competition associations as they work to clean up their public image to meet the modern day informed standards and social media scrutiny. Welfare statements and importantly their management can define an association in the eyes of the general public and those interested in sports.

Some associations are pro-active and progressive whereas others, like the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), are just failing to deliver in their rules.

For many people, a horse show is a place where they see competition horses in the few minutes of showing under the judge. They see the big slides and fast spins and get enthralled in hype and entertainment; never seeing the alleged abuse that creates those circus tricks. With little access to the behind the scenes and the journey to the show ring, hiding the real experiences horses endure to become entertainment and instruments of success to the rider.

During discussions on the management of horse abuse at National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) official events, it became evident that this is an association evolving to meet the welfare demands of horses. The discussion raised some serious contrasts between NRHA and NCHA and being miles apart.

On reading their respective current rule books, it became apparent that the NCHA write in a positive tone to ensure the improvement of their sport and image with precise definitions and responsibility. The NRHA seemingly reliant on vague statements fraught with gaps to protect trainers and their staff from conviction.

While both NCHA and NRHA rules state they apply to ‘the show arena or on the show grounds,’ the NRHA rules fall well short when set beside those of the NCHA.

A couple of the major notable differences are:

NRHA Rule Book states Section 3. Abuse. (1) No one shall abuse or mistreat any horse in any manner whatsoever on the show grounds. Abuse is defined as an action, or failure to act, which a reasonably prudent person, informed and experienced in the customs, accepted training techniques, and exhibition procedures, would determine to be cruel, abusive, inhumane, or detrimental to the horse’s health. (2) Individuals will be subject to the disciplinary procedures if it is determined that there was a willful abuse of the horse.

There is a reporting process with a $250.00 fee attached and the said complaint, with all required evidence, is heard by the NRHA in their hearing process. That process to be reviewed at another time.

The NRHA is using vague statements and has many loopholes that can be taken advantage of. What is a reasonably prudent person, informed and experienced in the customs, accepted training techniques? Based on personal observation and what is seen on video in warm-up pens posted on our website. The excessive spurring, jerking reins with the full strength of the upper body of riders, continuous over bending, stopping and spinning starting or ending with the techniques above, then acceptable practices is an endless statement that embraces just about everything that otherwise is considered abuse outside of the reining culture.

To the opposite, the NCHA Rule Book states:

Any act which the general public would perceive to be a violation of 35b. This includes such acts occurring not only in the show arena but also those occurring anywhere on the show grounds–the warm-up area, practice pen or any other location. A. If show management or judge at any NCHA approved or sponsored event discovers inhumane treatment or abuse of a horse, they should immediately bar the responsible party and horse from further competition in the event and the judge will give a score of zero.

They have a $50.00 fee for filing complaints post events.

How gratifyingly proactive is the NCHA for these two primary reasons:

  1. The NCHA take action, at the event, immediately banning the responsible party rather than waiting weeks or months. A strong message of non-acceptance.
  2. The NCHA apply a measure of accountability of any act the general public perceives as a violation. A transparent and accountable process, ensuring the welfare of horses.

To go that extra step, the NCHA actually document what abuse is:

  1. Abuse includes excessive jerking, cueing, whipping, slapping, use of lip wire or similar device, or any other act intended to cause trauma or injury to a horse. Any act of abuse, or intent to abuse a horse, in the show arena or on the show grounds which could also potentially endanger the safety of other persons or animals will be dealt with in the strongest possible manner.

On attending both official events to see this first hand, the difference is apparent. The NCHA Show Manager is active in overseeing the warm-up pens and event walk-in, passing stern looks and guidance on what is not acceptable at the NCHA events. They are monitoring, better termed policing, with vigor to ensure the rules are abided to, and the welfare of horses is the highest priority through their actions.

To the contrast at the NRHA event, the Show Manager was concerned with other duties of the show and animal welfare seemingly was low on the agenda as there were no active signs of policing or monitoring occurring. No rider was spoken to [disciplined] at the time of the incident to stop it, and there were many instances where intervention was required. The lack of documented abusive practices became apparent and reliance on vague statements being inadequate.

When is the NRHA going to install rules that deliver immediate and measurable accountability to all those trainers, competitors, and their help teams? Why do they continue to rely on ambiguous statements that make defining abuse of a horse a near impossible task for any complainant?

These are the questions that should be put to the NRHA.